Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business has joined a growing number of prominent full-time MBA programs that is waiving GMAT and GRE test scores from its admissions process. Kelley is the fourth school with a top 25 ranked MBA to offer waivers due to the COVID pandemic, joining MIT Sloan, the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, and the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. At least nine of the top 50 MBA programs are now essentially test-optional.
As COVID cases surge in the U.S. and the world, more schools expect test centers to shutter yet again, leaving prospective applicants with the prospect of having to take the GMAT or the GRE test at-home. Admission directors, however, continue to hear stories from applicants who are encountering some unusual challenges with at-home testing. Only last week, for example, Michigan Ross’ Soojin Kown told Poets&Quants that one female applicant scored a 730 on the GMAT at a test center only one week after scoring only 620 on the at-home version of the test.
MBA admission consultants expect more schools to join the test-optional bandwagon. “As COVID-19 rates rise throughout the country and additional test centers close, I expect that some schools will likely follow suit, given the limitations of online testing,” says Scott Edinburgh, founder of Personal MBA Coach, a top admissions firm. ” These policy changes are most likely from schools that have shown testing flexibility in the past.”
‘THE EMPATHY AND CONCERN THAT SCHOOLS ARE EXPRESSING IS SHARED BY MANY MBA ADMISSION COMMITTEES’
Linda Abraham, founder of Accepted.com, another admissions consulting firm, agrees. “I think we will see additional schools going test-optional or being very generous with waivers this cycle,” says Abraham, though she does not think it will be a “wave” or “mass movement.” “The recent COVID surge is hitting everyone and seemingly everywhere. The empathy and concern that Ross and other schools are expressing is shared by many MBA admissions committees.”
Esther Magna, a principal MBA admissions consultant at Stacy Blackman Consulting, expects test scores to play a diminishing role in MBA admissions, as programs will show greater flexibility and compassion when an applicant describes testing issues. “We are hearing about testing hiccups for the GMAT, where the software crashed on the test taker’s computer and the proctor was unable to resolve and the test ended prematurely,” says Magna.
“We are hearing that GMAC has blocked test takers from signing up for a second online test even in these scenarios and that the GMAC system is slow to grant permission for a retake. It can turn into a game of ‘hot potato’ where GMAC points to Pearson as the entity needing to resolve the situation and then Pearson directs the test taker to GMAC. A recent client was exasperated saying, ‘I have scheduled an in-person exam in three weeks as a backup to the online test retake since I am concerned that the in-person exams will run out of availability.’ Other clients with similar issues were able to resolve only after waiting on hold for hours to request permission to retake.”
‘GRANTING WAIVERS IN RECOGNITION THAT THERE ARE CANDIDATES STRUGGLING TO TAKE AN EXAM’Kelley’s decision to offer waivers was made in August but was not more generally announced at the time. “It was really offered in recognition of the fact that there are candidates struggling to take the exam either because test centers have limited capacity because they had to cut back to maintain social distancing or because a lot of people have struggled with the at-home exams due to their living situations or technology in the home,” says James Holmen, director of admissions and financial aid. “We have nothing to lose to provide a little more flexibility this year.”
Holmen says he received and granted some waivers in the round one admissions period that ended Oct. 15. That round saw a 30% increase in applications from both domestic and international candidates. “We started receiving requests in August and started granting waivers then, but it was a relatively small number because by that time many applicants had already taken the tests,” he says. “I expect that to be higher in the second round. Since everything is so new I really don’t have a sense of what percentage of the next entering class will be joining us after having been granted a waiver.”
While Kelley’s official website indicates that the school will “award a limited number of waivers to candidates with otherwise strong qualifications,” Holmen suggests that the school could be more flexible. “It’s not limited in the sense that we have a quota,” he says. “It’s limited in the sense that we don’t want people to think it is automatic. We are looking for evidence of quantitative coursework or quantitative work within their employment. In some respects, it’s not that big of a change because historically we have had a holistic review process. We have always looked closely at the academic record to balance a GMAT score that might not be quite as high.”